Pole dancing. When you hear those words, an immediate sexualised image comes to your mind. However, Netflix’s recent documentary, Strip Down, Rise Up, rejects that cliché.
Oscar-nominated film director Michèle Ohayon introduces us to the world of pole bravely. The montage of women of all kind, dancing in the mirrorless room is invigorating. From plus-size bodies to pregnant women.
As the world grows more conscious, women from all over take part in this documentary. It’s both an effort to reclaim your body, and an education in the emotional feminine experience. A woman-dominated experience, with a couple of men brave enough to take a spin too.
I think what makes this documentary so engaging is the diversity. We’re introduced to the group of newbies alongside the celebrity instructor Sheila Kelley: who encourages that pole is boundless. No shape or size is discriminated against because the six-month beginner course has nothing to do with the body.
It’s all about your emotional relationship with your body. This isn’t about looking sexy; it’s about feeling sexy. Sheila Kelley gives an in-depth outlook to the teaching side of pole dancing, and how the sport is therapeutic in many more ways than people tend to consider.
For so long, pole dancing has been overly sexualised. It had been commercialised for the male gaze instead of the feminine existence, giving it an oppressive stigma instead of regarding it as a very empowering lifestyle.
This feature-length documentary is a feminine movement, hell-bent on women reclaiming their bodies. It’s an education on the emotional depths of your body and how to release those emotions. There’s a strong sense of sisterhood build in the training program that Shelia Kelley teaches and a deep respect concerning safety, both in a physical and emotional sense.
I’ll admit, I went into this expecting a lot of cool tricks and showmanship. It was something entirely else: it was about body acceptance, dealing with personal trauma and healing. Which is something I don’t think is often associated with pole dancing.
People tend to place more focus on the performance side. Personally, I loved the balance between the two. It’s stark and bold, showing you that pole fitness could never be defined by one category. Just watching it is truly transformative, seeing the way feeling sexy can change your entire perception of yourself.
It’s about owning your body against traumas: betrayals, sexual abuse, weight gain and mastectomies. Every woman in the documentary is given a platform to release themselves on. Tears shed as quickly as clothes did, and you’ll probably cry too.
Or gape in amazement at the gravity-defying trickster that is Amy Bond. Just one of the many women who have a different approach to pole fitness. Amy is focused on staying in the air where she can perform her best tricks.
An empowered young woman who ran away from home at a young age. Who then turned to the adult film industry for money, winning the journey to owning herself. Her story highlights how pole fitness is a war in reclaiming women’s bodies.
Because pole dancing has always been regarded as a man’s enjoyment, despite it being performed by women’s bodies. It’s a culture that has been tailored to male desire and the masculine gaze, stripping women of the power over their own bodies and sexuality.
This documentary is to empower women to embrace all forms of pleasure. To want to desire themselves, to want to flaunt what you have for yourself. The real art of pole isn’t necessarily the tricks and strength you learn, but the power to love the body you have and to recreate it outside the perspective of the patriarchy.
There is no judgement in Strip Down, Rise Up, there’s no categorising, no jealousy. All there is, is teaching your body to do what it truly wants to do. Unlearning the way society conditions women to view and treat their bodies and learning how to embrace the true nature of themselves.
It very primal in nature: just that rawness of owning yourself. Forging a sensual relationship inside yourself and releasing all the negativity you gatekeep inside. This documentary is enlightening and engaging, it empowers all audiences.
Michèle Ohayon challenges women to see themselves outside of the male perspective. Sheila Kelley encourages women to embrace what they’ve been through and to forgive their bodies. Amy Bond expresses the sheer power of the feminine body and what it’s capable of.
And the pole is the key to unlocking all those doors: you just have to grab it and swing.
Featured image credit: NBC News
Deputy Editor of Brig Newspaper. Fourth year journalism and English student at the University of Stirling. Lover of covering social issues and creator of 'The Talk' column for everyone who needs to hear it.